Sunday, March 7, 2010

Teaching Nietzsche I

Editor's Note: The following posting has been lifted and transposed here from my old philosophy blog, "How To Philosophy." If you absolutely want to read it in its original context, click on the link over there. ------> There are a couple of reasons why I'm copying and pasting it here; first, it's an easy way to keep blogging, and I'm trying desperately to keep up with writing on this blog regularly. Second, I've been missing doing philosophy lately, and I'm hoping that, just maybe, salvaging some of my old thoughts from "How To Philosophy" may prime the pump a little bit and get me writing again. Robyn's and my friend, S.T.H, came down from Chicago this weekend and, as we were sitting at the gentlemen's club discussing Wittgenstein, I thought to myself, "Damn, I really need to keep doing this." This is a first, lame attempt at that. And, third, I like this posting, think that it is a good example of how to "do" philosophy, and think that you should read it!

Friedrich Nietzsche was born on October 15, 1844, near Leipzig in Prussia., the eldest of three children. His father was a Lutheran pastor and his mother, Franziska, was 18 at his birth. Nietzsche would be three years old at the publication of the Communist Manifesto and the subsequent Revolutions of 1848 in France, Germany, and Hungary. In Germany, these struggles would lead to a political backlash of nationalism.

Nietzsche was something of a child prodigy, especially in music and language. He began attending the University of Bonn in 1864, where he first read Schopenhauer, and began to question his own faith. While he was a student, Prussia waged successful wars against Denmark and Austria. He graduated in 1868, the first year he met Richard Wagner.

After his graduation, Nietzsche was immediately offered a post as a professor of philology at the University of Basil. Two years earlier, Otto von Bismarck had become the Chancellor of the North German Federation; as soon as Nietzsche reached Basil, he renounced his Prussian citizenship. From Wikipedia:

Nevertheless, he served on the Prussian side during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 to 1871 as a medical orderly. In his short time in the military he experienced much, and witnessed the traumatic effects of battle. He also contracted diphtheria and dysentery. Walter Kaufmann speculates that he might also have contracted syphilis along with his other infections at this time and some biographers speculate that syphilis caused his eventual madness, though there is some dispute on this matter.[5] On returning to Basel in 1870, Nietzsche observed the establishment of the German Empire and the following era of Otto von Bismarck as an outsider and with a degree of skepticism regarding its genuineness.
This makes Nietzsche one in a long line of Philosopher-Veterans that includes Socrates, Descartes, and Wittgenstein. However, the war exposed Nietzsche's weak physique; he would be plagued by health problems - some of them crippling - for the rest of his life. These included severe migraines, stomach cramps, intense and long-term bouts of nausea, and temporary blindness.

While at Basel, Nietzsche became closer to Richard Wagner and his wife, Cosima. He would often be found at the Wagner's house, and he became something of a "court philosopher" for them and their many guests. Nietzsche even presented Cosima a draft of his book, the pro-Wagner The Birth of Tragedy as a birthday gift in 1870.

Nietzsche formally published The Birth of Tragedy in 1872, a year after the formation of the new German Empire (Reich) was declared at Versailles and the same year that Bismarck ordered all Jesuits expelled from Germany. The book was met with almost unanimous scorn and ridicule. It was seen as an example of poor scholarship, subjective history, and questionable ethics. One of its few supporters was Richard Wagner; however, this was unsurprising as much of the book was dedicated to praising Wagner's genius. Wikipedia quotes Marianne Cowan:

The Birth of Tragedy presented a view of the Greeks so alien to the spirit of the time and to the ideals of its scholarship that it blighted Nietzsche's entire academic career. It provoked pamphlets and counter-pamphlets attacking him on the grounds of common sense, scholarship and sanity. For a time, Nietzsche, then a professor of classical philology at the University of Basel, had no students in his field. His lectures were sabotaged by German philosophy professors who advised their students not to show up for Nietzsche's courses.
In 1879, due to constant criticism, poor health, and a lack of student interest, Nietzsche lost his job at Basel. He would never work in academia again.

Next Episode: Friedrich abandons his philosophical pessimism and gets the hell out of Germany!

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